It all started on Thursday and despite best laid plans I wasn’t sure if I would even see my traveling companion as the Jungle drums had informed me that he had managed to leave his passport back in Manchester! The even more worrying things were:
1. He didn’t notice until I emailed him earlier that day
I’m sure Joe has a different story about the weekend, he probably wont even mention turning up for his lift 30minutes late or not bringing the one thing that was suggested (apart from passport) – a track pump! Check out Joe’s blog here……
I had decided to Ferry over to Antwerp and to be honest it was a pretty good call, it was a relaxed trip and not having to be cooped up in a car, plane or train for the majority of the journey was a blessing. The ferry ended up (including a number of changes to schedule) being around 200.00 between two of us and 1 tank of fuel.
It was my first experience of driving on the ‘right’ and with my able navigator (errr) what could possibly go wrong! Disappointingly for a blog, absolutely nothing (despite the torrential downpour) and all credit to Joe who got us to Antwerp (with a little luck) without making one wrong turn (getting back is a different story- but your reading this to hear about the race so I will just get on with it).
On Friday we had an easy morning and then drove down to the local 50m pool (all lanes I hasten to add!) and did a decent swim session – this was really interesting for me as Joe had been beating me out of the water all season – ranging from 40 seconds at IMUK70.3 to well over a minute at Liverpool 5150. I know that I am a better swimmer than the times I had been putting out so was very intrigued to see what Joe could do.
We started with a mixed warm up followed by drills then some side by side sprints. It turned out that Joe takes it pretty easy in warm ups, this fooled me a bit as I had the following thoughts;
- How on earth is he beasting me in the swim
- Do I look like that??
It wasn’t until we did some of the sprints followed by a 100m max that the real Joe appeared and I wont say it was an ugly duckling to Swan type transformation but it was definitely akin to a swimming donkey changing to a Mutant Sea Bass – he doesn’t half shift when he thinks about it!!!
Swim done and having locked our clothes in the numerical locker (or Enigma Machine) that Egor managed to open for us we headed back to the Hotel (Still raining). Evening consisted of getting pissed off with crap waiters, not giving a tip and burning my mouth on some tomato based hot water – I think they called it soup but my experience of soup in the UK is that it has flavor. Joe didn’t tip as they didn’t do tap water and we spent the potential ‘tip fund’ on overpriced Lemonade and orange juice.
On Saturday we had part arranged to meet Natalie Barnard, Mark Nolan and Bryan McCrystal for a Bike reckie. Unfortunately Natalie slept in and the Irish lads must have got the time wrong as they got up early – we were gonna send a cheeky tweet saying we would catch them up on the bike but after seeing Bryan’s bike split from the race it would have been a blatant lie!!
The Bike reckie was interesting in itself as we got told off by the police for not cycling on the pavement and nearly ended up on the R1 (equivalent of M1). The course itself is flat as flat can be except for a few rises where the roads crossed rivers (bridges) so I was keen to try and come out of the water in a good position and find myself some appropriate allies to assist with a Pace Line (i.e. we all sit outside the draft legal 10m but use each other to establish and work at an appropriate pace – if you pick the right guys it can give a definite advantage as you know if your dropping speed or pushing potentially too hard – it is a bit like using a power meter I suppose).
Being in the Pro racking we got a great position for T1 and got to see some of the athletes at the sharp end such as Nicola Spirig, Bert and Bart. Lots of Pro racers we hadn’t met before and also got to have a chat with Bryan and Mark Nolan.
We were given a nice warm up at the beginning of the race (10-15mins or so) and I found this really helped, I didn’t hit the fatigue levels I had done in earlier races trying to go max off the front so will definitely be working on an appropriate warm-up for future races. Joe and I found some space on the RHS of the start line and settled in behind the canoes. The idea was that the canoes would move out of the way on the gun but a number (i.e. most) athlete had managed to get on the other side of the canoes with a few of us cut off behind them. When the gun went they got off nice and cleanly whereas we had to wait for the canoes to move – probably only a few seconds but may have meant that we missed some feet!
I got off in front of Joe and didn’t see him again until after the first turn, I spent the majority of the first part of the swim slightly off course with a female pro, just after the turn I saw Joe on my left shoulder and we pretty much stayed that way until the end of the swim, I gave him some space at the second buoy (I did think about cutting him off but that just wouldn’t be British! (it turned out I had already clobbered him at the first turn – not deliberate!).
Swim: 24:09 (joint 23rd fastest) Overall Position 23rd
The run into T1 was pretty quick with one pro passing us, I mounted without too many problems (had a bit of a delay with my lid) and managed to gap Joe by about 20seconds. I was expecting him to come past at any stage as I take about 30mins to settle in on my bike and always have a lethargic start. I had a bit of a battle with a couple of riders over the first 10k or so as one passed me as we dropped into the tunnel and cut in so quickly that he hit my front wheel. I dropped back a bit but it turned out he wasn’t really moving that fast (from looking at the photos he must have been on my wheel since the mount line) so I pushed on and past him pretty quickly – didn’t see him again.
T1: 1:33 (9th Fastest) Position 20th
When Joe came past he soon picked up a ‘passenger’ who stayed there despite a number of warnings from the marshals for the next 10k or so – eventually he moved past. This turned out to be the story of the bike section with two riders (one whom we picked up about 40k in, so im not quite sure how he managed to drop a good 2 minutes in first half of bike then have enough energy to ride away from us in the last 5k to run sub 1:15!!) constantly tracking either Joe or I (depended who was leading the pace line). I had a number of conversations with the Draft busters about how close they were and also checked my distance with them at each opportunity.
Anyway, after ruining my race in Vegas last year by trying to lose a Klingon I just got on with tried to stay at a steady pace and used Joe and the other two as a bit of a marker, making sure I did more than my fair share at the lead of the line.
We caught a few more riders including Nicola and were eventually passed by Darby (Ex USA team cyclist) and Bryan McCrystal (who rode alone and posted the second fastest bike split – v impressive, especially when he didn’t work in a line – if he ever sorts his swimming out watch out!).
Finishing the bike our pace line was pretty well placed – not with the fastest boys (who had formed a pace line of their own) but we had a comfortable gap between us and the next set of riders. The final run in was a lot longer than I had expected and the 10k to go sign was, well, a little bit generous. You combined this with the last 2 k or so being on cobbles and by the time I got into T2 I was starting to feel it on my legs. I came in at the back of the line as the two lads and Joe nipped round late on.
Bike: 2:13:36 (20th fastest) Position 17th
Joe and I must have dropped a couple of minutes on the run in as we hadn’t been to the split transitions to establish the best places to take out feet etc – if we had known the course (and next time we will) we will definitely be able to save some time here.
T2 was a bit slower, again running on cobbles which wasn’t ideal and I lost a few seconds to Joe. The good thing about the Antwerp Transitions was the fact that they are even (i.e. if you run a short distance with your bike in T1 you have a longer run in T2 and vice versa – this was one annoyance at IM Mallorca 70.3 when I raced AG last year).
T2 1:05 (32nd fastest) Position 22nd
After dropping some time to Joe I knew I had to bridge and find someone to pace off, Joe was ideal as we aren’t far off in terms of running ability and I knew that we would push each other and perhaps make up some ground on the Italian. We were in 12/13th at this stage and things felt pretty good.
I caught Joe in the 1st kilo and we settled into a decent pace for the first lap, I felt as though I was running within myself and that I could perhaps go up a gear. After the first lap we were still together although I had just started to run behind Joe and then as we hit the main straight it started to go a bit wrong….
I started to drop back pretty rapidly and could feel my legs starting to bang into each other, this got gradually worse until I had to walk the aid stations (and a couple of other bits) taking on as much energy/fluid as I could. I didn’t have quite the same hunger feeling I had at IM70.3 UK at this stage although that did come on later on in the race. I managed to battle through the 2nd lap (dropping 4 minutes on Joe) and Lap 3 dropping a further 7 until I found a second wind with about 2 k to go (Just after Nicola Spirig passed me going like a freight train!) I picked it up a bit and caught up with another pro who had passed me a few hundred yards before but didn’t have the energy at that stage to bridge and beat him on a sprint.
The crowd at the event were amazing and really supportive, the commentator, despite his comments of ‘ …here comes Matt Ellis who is having a bad day on the run” was very welcome as were the waffles , massage and city fountain at the finish (definitely good for cooling off!).
Run: 1:31:24 (100th fastest - whoops) Overall Position 38th
Lap 1: 22nd overall
I ended up dropping 8 pro places during the last 14k (or less) of the run and a load more places overall, but I have come to realize that racing pro and having a catatonic failure at the end chasing places is different to running for a time. I may only be part time at this but as I have said before I am not here to make up the numbers and am still working out the best way to race competitively in a Pro field.
The cobbled run with tired legs and nutrition clash has unfortunately caused a longer than usual recovery period meaning I had to miss Tristar 111. It is now 10days post race and I am only now thinking of running again!
So far I know the following:
- The swim is very important and I need to be at the sharp end no matter what people say about the swim being less important at Middle distance.
- A good swim enables you to get out in a good pace line, this saves physical and mental energy.
- Good transitions are vital to maintain position
- I need a new nutrition strategy – I am almost there but am going to experiment with solids in Weisbaden.
- Its no good having a nutrition strategy if you don’t stick to it
- Finding an appropriate run pacer at my level is also v important and will be a future tactic. Once I have the confidence that I can run at a pace in a race scenario I can develop strategy further.
The next blog will be post Weisbaden……European Championships!!!!